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Are We Creating Earthquakes?


A series of small earthquakes in Ohio and Arkansas has more and more people worried that the quakes are being caused by companies pumping water into the ground – either as waste water or to drill for natural gas.

As the evidence of danger mounts, one company, Northstar Disposal Services, has halted operations outside of Youngstown, Ohio.

The linkage has been known for almost 50 years.

In the 1960s, a waste-water well in Colorado at the Rocky Flats Arsenal is believed to have been the trigger for a magnitude-4.8 quake. Also in the 60s, geologists realized that gold mines in South Africa had created small earthquakes. Caverns dug into the earth thousands of feet below the surface collapsed. The “pancake” effect caused quakes — in one case a magnitude-5.2 temblor.

If water is being pumped near a fault line so that the water content around the fault is changed, the fault can slip. If the water gets into the fault itself, it can lubricate the fault and trigger a quake.

In a commercial practice called fracking, water is pumped into the ground to push out natural gas.In many parts of the country, this has caused gas to get pushed into the water table. People then turn on their taps at home … and out comes water mixed with explosive gas.

More on the earthquake story is here on NPR.

More about fracking is here on ProPublica.

And here’s a video of a song “My Water’s on Fire Tonight” – aka The Fracking Song – by an environmental group.